Complaining with Jane
By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 3 2017 01:00PM
I like to think that I am not a complainer, but I have to admit that I've done a lot of complaining on this blog.
Some of my moans are chronic: I never tire of pointing out that quotes from filmed adaptations of Jane Austen’s works are not, in fact, quotes by Jane Austen. And some of my moans are situational: This year, I have frequently noted the misfortune of being an American Janeite with a limited travel budget just when the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death has brought an avalanche of Austen-related events to Britain.
How exciting, then, to be able to combine my complaints into one Super-Moan, as I managed to do when I ran across this post by Sophie Andrews, who blogs at Laughing with Lizzie and is a volunteer ambassador for the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation.
As you’ll recall, one of the many, many bicentenary events that we budget-conscious American Janeites can’t experience is Sitting With Jane, the art trail composed of twenty-four specially painted, Austen-inspired, book-shaped benches located in and around Basingstoke, in Austen's home county of Hampshire.
Luckily, however, Andrews has visited all twenty-four, and in her post she provides excellent photos of the front and back of each one, along with some details about its location. Judging from her photos, the artistic approaches and interpretative attitudes taken by the bench creators vary widely, from Regency restraint to comic-book sass, but many are quite lovely and all are interesting. Grr! Why can’t I go see them myself?
But really now: If you’re going to create a bench (“Jane and Her Forgotten Peers”) dedicated to Austen and some of the pioneering female writers who came before her, and if you’re going to put that bench outside Winchester Cathedral, where Austen is buried, shouldn’t you make sure that any quotes you attribute to Austen actually come from one of her books?
Yes, I’m afraid it’s true: On the back of the Winchester Cathedral bench,* next to a portrait of Austen, appears this quote: “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.”
I have said it before, and no doubt I will have to say it again. Jane Austen did not write this line, no matter how many web sites claim she did. It is a garbled version of a line written by Andrew Davies in his screenplay for the 2008 television adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.
I hate to think of Jane Austen rolling over in her nearby grave at this misattribution. On the other hand, she might have enjoyed the irony: A bench dedicated to great female writers uses a quote from a male one.
* In fact, “Jane Talk,” another bench in the Sitting With Jane series, also uses movie quotes (though not the Davies one) in a “modern graphic art style” montage of Austen-related lines. But at least the creator of that bench seems to have realized she was using movie lines. (The “Jane Talk” bench is supposed to “inspire all to read [Austen’s] novels,” though I must grumpily point out that this goal might be better served by quoting from those novels, rather than from screenplays based on them but written by other people.)
You can't complain about this problem too often for me. Grumble on, my fellow curmudgeon!
Just couldn' t let it go in this context ( I mean, really! The Winchester Cathedral bench!) I appreciate your support -- I'm honored to be your fellow curmudgeon. :-)
It's a fair point, our artists are not Jane Austen experts, and have done their own research. Clearly this one has been misguided by a frequently used misquote. I think it is clear however, the theme of female empowerment that the artists was hoping to portray, is still valid. I agree Jane Austen would probably have been amused by the irony! The point of the project is to celebrate her life and enduring popularity and relevance today. The BookBenches will be raising money for charity when they are all auctioned on 15 September. It has been entirely funded by sponsorship and presented to the public for free. Thanks very much for your interest in our project.
Hi, Felicity -- Thanks for commenting! The benches are beautiful, and it's great that you'll be using them as a charitable fundraiser. Anything that honors Jane Austen is a plus in my book. . .